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Making History Matter: Kuroita Katsumi and the Construction of Imperial Japan.

Making History Matter: Kuroita Katsumi and the Construction of Imperial Japan. By LISA YOSHIKAWA. Harvard East Asian Monographs, vol. 402. Cambridge, Mass.: HARVARD UNIVERSITY ASIA CENTER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2017. Pp. xii + 367. $49.95

Lisa Yoshikawa's important book analyzes the development of the Japanese historical profession in the first half of the twentieth century. As she argues, scholars of this era secured public support for their individual careers, the university system, and the discipline of history by finding and reconciling "objective" evidence of the past with the expansionist aspirations of their increasingly powerful authoritarian state. By the 1930s, this task led them to champion Japan's war in Asia and the Pacific. However, as a result of the nation's defeat in 1945, imperialism, fascism, and militarism were discredited. A minority of historians were scapegoated for the larger complicity of the profession, purged, and officially "forgotten" by their students and colleagues. Meanwhile, a new origin story was created for the historical discipline in Japan. Some scholars represented its genesis as an entirely postwar phenomenon. Others overlooked the ideological implications of prewar scholarship, claiming that their teachers had done nothing more than collect documents. From her position outside Japanese academia, Yoshikawa dismantles these shockingly durable myths by exposing the founding contributions of wartime scholars who "made history matter"--that is, who turned the practice of history-writing into a justification of the ambitions of the state they served.

Yoshikawa narrates the development of historiography in Japan as a generational tale beginning with the first cohort of scholars following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Although the use of history to justify political authority was common in pre-modern Japan, sustained exposure to Euro-American norms and the initiation of a new nation-building agenda in the late nineteenth century gave the narration of the past new purpose as a nationalist enterprise. Japanese scholars studied modern Western historiography abroad and in Japan's new universities, particularly Tokyo Imperial University (Todai), the nation's first and most prestigious institution of higher learning. Among their teachers was Ludwig von Riess (1861-1928), a German scholar and former student of Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886). Ranke, often credited with transforming the pursuit of history into a professional discipline, offered a model of "objective" scholarship boosting the power of the monarchy that was to influence Japanese historiography for at least the next fifty years.

The focus of the book is the "second generation" of historians in Meiji Japan. Yoshikawa does not provide chronological or ideological parameters for this group: in fact, despite its importance to the argument, the category of generation is left largely unpacked. The most noteworthy representatives of this cohort included Mikami Sanji (1865-1939), Kuroita Katsumi (1874-1946), and Tsuji Zennosuke (1877-1955). The author dubs them Japan's Ranke, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Charles A. Beard, although she seems to use these characterizations to suggest their stature in the historical profession rather than to highlight commonalities in their work.

Within the second generation, Yoshikawa focuses particularly on the career of Kuroita. Her reasons for selecting Kuroita over Mikami and Tsuji are not elaborated, but as she states, the former's "broad, long, and productive career makes him an ideal lens through which to examine larger issues of imperial Japan's history and historiography" (p. 19). During his years in the profession, Kuroita analyzed Japanese historical events dating from before the advent of writing through his own time. He was one of the first Japanese historians to consider non-documentary evidence from other fields, particularly religious studies, archaeology, and geography; and he called for collaboration with anthropologists, linguists, philosophers, and folklorists as well. Kuroita applauded the construction of museums and devoted himself to the preservation of documents, objects, and sites in Japan and its empire. He also pioneered the dual role of the historian as scholar and public intellectual, writing for both an academic and a mass audience (including even children) as he strove to entrench his discipline. Kuroita was also extremely prolific: Yoshikawa's impressive list of his publications, beginning with undergraduate articles, spans no less than thirty-seven pages in the appendix. This record is, as the author notes, "in no way complete" (p. 265)--although more comprehensive than any other known bibliography of Kuroita's scholarship to date. Indeed, it is no slight upon the depth of Yoshikawa's research to observe that Kuroita's list of publications is nearly fifty percent longer than the bibliography of her monograph.

A disciplinary history rather than an intellectual biography, the book treats only Kuroita's most significant scholarship in depth. Each chapter covers roughly a decade of his career (with the exception of the first chapter, which addresses his life through the age of about twenty). Kuroita was born near Nagasaki into a former samurai family. Following an excellent primary and secondary education, he enrolled at Todai, where he studied national history (kokushi) under its progenitors. Kokushi sought to construct a past for the Japanese nation-state based on the divinity of a sovereign emperor with unrestricted authority (deployed to great effect by the leaders who ruled in his name). As a nationalist discourse, kokushi was confined within certain ideological parameters, and by the time Kuroita reached university in the 1890s, the Meiji government had already begun to enforce these limits. Given the significance of the emperor, historians were pressured to uphold or at least avoid contradicting narratives that established his descent from the mythical Sun Goddess. Those who failed to restrict their scholarship to "acceptable" treatments of "acceptable" topics were censured and even forced to leave their national university positions. Over time, the consequences of dissent became increasingly grave, providing negative as well as positive incentives for historians to uphold political orthodoxy.

Yoshikawa's close analysis of Kuroita's career reveals a man of many contradictions. Though he is today dismissed as a jingoistic mouthpiece of crude nationalism (when he is remembered at all), Kuroita clearly cherished history as an evidence-based discipline. He openly argued that "seeing Japanese history through rose-colored glasses was not helpful" and that the national past "had both positive and negative aspects" (p. 131). In his view, it was the task of the historian to help the people emulate the former and avoid repeating the latter. In his youth, Kuroita championed the Esperanto movement as both a tool of pacifism and a means of overcoming Japan's linguistic isolation. He spent two years immersed in European and American academia, attending conferences, building practical knowledge and connections, and considering how historians might help Japan to overcome its perceived backwardness vis-a-vis the West. He came to distrust the great powers and to scorn the "degeneration" of civilization in neighboring China and Korea--not coincidentally the targets of Japanese imperialism in the early twentieth century. In the wake of World War I, as the nation gravitated towards democracy and internationalism, he occupied the forefront of a clique of historians who maintained their statist convictions and who used their scholarship to advance the interests of the nation above all else.

By the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989), the political winds had shifted against liberalism. Meanwhile, Kuroita had become the most senior historian at Todai and one of Japan's most respected public intellectuals. As the military targeted Micronesia and Southeast Asia for expansionism, he examined Japan's historical relations with the Pacific to naturalize its contemporary political ambitions. His work contributed to the new discipline of "colonial studies," which flourished at universities in Japan's imperial territories. He also promoted an emperor-centered view of history through large-scale authoritative syntheses, document collections, and edited volumes spanning the age of the gods and recorded time. Supported by both the government and private sources, these projects reinforced the prestige and public role of their author and of the historical discipline in Japan on the verge of World War II.

In 1935, Kuroita celebrated his retirement at a gathering that mobilized no less than 1,716 donors including students, representatives of Buddhist temples, and even a few Koreans--an indication of his stature in and beyond the academic world. Only a year later he suffered a debilitating stroke that essentially ended his career at the age of sixty-two. Although it is impossible to know for sure how the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) would have impacted his scholarship, Yoshikawa speculates that he would likely have joined some of his most notorious fellow professors at Todai in actively championing Japanese aggression. As she notes pithily, "Perhaps Kuroita's last gift to the field was the timing of his stroke" (p. 250). Without such foreknowledge, however, students and colleagues continued to revere him, continually visiting his sickbed and taking up his work in progress. Kuroita died ten years later in 1946.

The very nature of history-writing today requires scholars to sift through layers of previous attempts to address a particular topic, yet Making History Matter is the first monograph to analyze the profession as a whole in what emerges as its most seminal and misunderstood decade in Japan. Yoshikawa has written a nuanced book that should be read

by anyone who regularly engages with Japanese scholarship or is interested in the comparative development of historiography.

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Author:Kadia, Miriam Kingsberg
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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